One Of The Most Amazing Moves Ever Played ( And Some Fun Stuff) From Amos Burn.

One Of The Most Amazing Moves Ever Played ( And Some Fun Stuff) From Amos Burn.


I'm back, with some really incredible chess - you won't have to be a history buff to enjoy this one!

Well, I have been on holiday. We spent a week on the wild and neglected coast of the North East of England.

Just North of Hull - the birth place of more than one outstanding English player of the Victorian era. It seemed appropriate to take along Richard Forster's incredible book on one of those players, Amos Burn.

Rather than look at his serious games, I spent some time - in between admiring the beauty of the resident sand martins and eating northern fish and chips - looking at Burn's off-hand and odds games.

Let's go look at some beautiful chess!

Where to start!? O.K. Odds games first!

Back in the time, odds games were a normal part of chess life. They were the staple diet of many clubs, with handicap tournaments being the norm. Burn's first tournament - which he won, was one such event at the Liverpool club.

The Hastings 1895 tournament book notes that he was arguably the greatest odds player in the World. Such things had, so to speak, almost their own rules. Henry Bird even included a chapter on opening theory for odds games in one of his books, and, as late as 1907, The British 'Yearbook of Chess' included a chapter on odds play.

Obviously the ones that were published at the time tended to be short 'brilliancies', which gives a somewhat misleading impression - both of the players involved, and the way in which odds games  generally went.

In his recent excellent book on Steinitz, Tim Harding has a nice piece on the role of odds play in the chess life of the Victorian era.

Let's have a quick look at a couple of Burn's games.

This one has been published on-line, quoting Forster as saying that it was almost forgotten, but imagine if Morphy had played it! A common problem - one of the legends plays a game, and it becomes famous - the same game by a less idolised player gets forgotten.

Please check out the variation in the notes at move 16 - it's a delight!

A nice picture of Burn from

clip from Vienna.1898.

One from one of the Liverpool Club Handicap tournaments. Typical game at these odds in the time. Black was not such a weak player, and to give him heavy odds and win was quite an achievement.

His opponent - like most here - was an interesting character in his own right - Lord Mayor of Liverpool ( at the time probably the second most prosperous city in England) William Watson Rutherford.
Another picture of him.

Let's quickly throw in another picture before I forget - the loser of the first game given is in there.

I really love those compilation group portraits of the era - many include images of lesser known figures that you won't find elsewhere, and they are a resource that I use a lot.

O.K. Let's get on to some off-hand games. Lot's of them - in the absence of more serious material - were published back in the 19th century. Players basically had one of two approaches.

There were those like Staunton and Morphy who took them very seriously, to the extent that they kept score of their games with different opponents. ( the cause of the falling out of Staunton and Lowenthal btw.)

There were others - Anderssen most notoriously - who regarded them as fun games to be rattled off hour after hour, purely for fun, and the wilder the better.

Burn certainly didn't belong to the first group, and was known to stay in the playing hall after serious tournament games for hours rattling off game after game. However, he seems to have been rather unique in his attitude! He would deliberately take risks - not in terms of trying for 'brilliancy' himself, but by deliberately taking on rediculous defensive tasks, inviting his opponents to attack him!

That led to him losing many beautiful games, but he also became regarded as one of the great defenders of his time.

One example of when it all went wrong is this one - played against two players - in consultation - who are both fascinating in their own ways.

The finish is a nice little tactical test - shouldn't take you too long!

In 1887, Burn was in London, and there was a lot of chess going on. At that point he played a lot of off-hand games with another fascinating figure of the time, William Henry Krause Pollock.

I don't have the most recent book on him, but I do have an old book 'Pollock Memories', by the wonderful Mrs Rowland, from which this picture is taken.

Pollock wasn't exactly a dull, unadventurous type - he once played his insane defence to the Ruy Lopez - 3...Na5 - against no less than Lasker. He played it against Burn too. The games from 1887 were great fun, With Burn taking silly risks and inviting Pollock to attack him.

My favourite of them is this one - a possible position is in the header - where it seems impossible that Burn - having taken on an insane King March - could survive. But he did, and won the game! Mesmerising stuff.

In fact it was an off-hand game that is one of the best known of Burn's early games - his career really divides into 3 parts - against Blackburne. As I say, you have to ignore the inaccuracies in these games - often they were dashed off in minutes just for the enjoyment of it - and enjoy them.

Burn spent a lot of time in the United States, and there is a game from one of his stays there which relates to the Blackburne game.

His opponent was a very important figure in U.S. chess, although most of you won't recognise the name - Louis Uedemann.

A game with some both Kings on the move from an early stage, a double Rook sacrifice, a King march ( no, Nigel Short didn't invent the idea!) and a pretty mating idea. What I call 'fun stuff'!

Another nice picture including Uedemann, via the incomparable @batgirl, (who is simply the very best in the field that I dip my toes in to) with humble thanks. Great picture!

So, finally, we get back to the title of this little offering. 

Richard Forster's incredible book on Amos Burn

changed the way that chess history is written forever, and very much for the better.

One of his discoveries has since been published and quoted many times, on the basis of one extraordinary move. To find such a thing over the board during a game would be the chess thrill of a life time. Bravo Mr Burn. You did that which some men - me included - dream of all their lives. I give the game for those of you who have not seen it before.

My favourite image of Amos Burn doesn't seem to have been posted online before ( I may be wrong!) so I will end by including it. A wonderful sketch from the original Russian Tournament Book of St. Petersburg 1909. Thanks for joining me on another short venture into the land of the forgotten beauties of chess history - feel free to comment ( politely!!) contribute, etc, and a big 'Take Care' and 'Cheers' to those who have joined me. Great to have you along for the ride.